Confusion persists over which COVID-19 rules, county or state, restaurants should follow

Commissioners to formally consider ’critical businesses’ resolution at special Wednesday morning meeting

Brickhouse Pizza on Third Street in downtown Rifle.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Glenwood Springs officials might not see eye-to-eye with Garfield County commissioners on what the state moving the county to red COVID-19 restrictions means, but that hasn’t resulted in any enforcement of restrictions.

That’s what Mayor Jonathan Godes said during a Garfield County commissioners meeting Monday.

However, there remains confusion for restaurants and other business sectors after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) last week imposed tighter restrictions, including suspending indoor dining, while the commissioners have said they can continue to operate at 50% indoor capacity, along with takeout services and open-air dining.

County commissioners have scheduled a special meeting for 9 a.m. Wednesday to formally adopt a resolution put forth last week seeking to classify indoor dining, gyms and fitness centers as “critical businesses” exempt from the level red restrictions.

For the city’s part, a CDPHE representative is expected to be on the Glenwood Springs City Council’s regular 6:15 p.m. Thursday meeting via Zoom to explain the state’s position.

The situation has left restaurants and other business owners stuck in the middle wondering how to proceed.

Several closed to all but takeout and outdoor dining when the state announced the move to level red effective at 5 p.m. last Thursday. Some decided to close altogether.

The Glenwood Canyon Brewpub, in a Dec. 10 Facebook post, wrote, “Due to recent changes to Garfield County’s COVID restrictions, the Brewpub will be closing today at 4 p.m. A reopening date has not yet been determined.”

The nearby Pullman, in an email to patrons, wrote, “At a puzzling convergence, where a collective health crisis collides with a heartfelt responsibility to support those we’re privileged to call our employees and family … we’re still offering take-out, or curb-side pick-up, as well as limited outdoor seating for those willing to brave the elements.”

Others along Glenwood’s downtown “restaurant row” and elsewhere around town were doing the same.

Zheng Asian Bistro, located on Market Street at the Glenwood Meadows, acknowledged in a Facebook post that there is a lot of confusion about the move to red level restrictions.

“As of 5 p.m. (Dec. 10), Zheng is open for take-out only and curbside pickup … we are grateful for our county commissioners fighting for us restaurants and small businesses to be ‘critical’ and stay open. However, if the state does not sign off on that we all risk the state revoking our liquor license, our business license…

“The point is, there is zero clarity around this, and at the end of the day restaurants have always followed public health regulations, pandemic or not. So, we carry on … (and) we are adapting and keeping all of our staff on.”

As for any restaurants that have decided to continue offering indoor dining, “We have not issued any tickets or summons, or anything like that,” Godes said in addressing the county commissioners on the matter during their Monday public health update. “Our goal in this has been education and compliance (with mask orders and physical distancing requirements).”

That said, Godes said he believes the state could take issue with the county saying restaurants can stay open at 50% indoor capacity, with a 10 p.m. last call for alcohol sales.

He said he also wants to avoid a situation that has occurred in Weld County and elsewhere in the state, where businesses were operating under the direction of their local jurisdiction, but ended up having state enforcement action taken against them.

The county resolution that’s on the table for formal consideration Wednesday would designate restaurants as “critical” with those looser restrictions in place.

Also in the works is a proposed countywide “5-Star” program that Garfield County Public Health is working with the state and local chambers to develop. It would allow restaurants to operate at a greater capacity than state restrictions allow, if they can show they meet a higher public health standard.

Jennifer Gerstner, owner of Burning Mountain Pizza in Silt, also addressed the county commissioners on Monday.

She said her business has followed all the COVID-19 guidelines and chose to take on additional leased space so it would have more space for indoor dining, with social distancing.

“That’s how we’ve been able to continue to stay in business, and now we’re asked to close down inside and just do delivery,” Gerstner said, adding that’s a financial risk they cannot afford to take.

Burning Mountain was among numerous restaurants in the west Garfield County communities that chose to stay open over the weekend, and continue to do so under the county’s guidance.

“We employ over 21 people, and to say to them we don’t have the hours for them is difficult,” Gerstner said.

Brickhouse Pizza in Rifle said in a Facebook post that it, too, was remaining open for indoor dining under the county’s guidance.

“Changes are happening quickly, and we are trying to keep everyone in the loop,” Brickhouse advised in its post. “That being said, dine in is a privilege we are very close to losing … we ask now more than ever that you wear your masks upon entry, and any time you are not seated … and socially distance!”

Godes also called on the county commissioners Monday to use some of the county’s reserve funds to assist businesses that have to close or reduce services under the tighter restrictions.

The city itself designated close to $750,000 in business relief funds since last spring, he said.

“Garfield County has over $80 million in rainy day reserves,” Godes noted. “Well, it’s pouring rain out there now for our businesses.”

County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky noted that the county has designated several hundred thousand dollars in relief funds during the pandemic, primarily directed at individual assistance and human service agencies in the county.

He and the other two commissioners maintained during the Monday meeting that the county does have discretion to establish local policy in conjunction with the state’s public health orders.

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